Women lose more years of life after heart attack than men, study finds

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A recent study reveals that women lose significantly more years of life after a heart attack compared to men.

Conducted by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Danderyd Hospital, and published in the journal Circulation, the study highlights the gender disparity in the impact of heart attacks on life expectancy.

Heart attacks are a leading cause of death worldwide and greatly affect life expectancy. Understanding their impact is crucial for identifying high-risk groups and improving future care.

The study analyzed data from 335,000 individuals who experienced their first heart attack, registered in the SWEDEHEART quality registry between 1991 and 2022.

These individuals were compared with 1.6 million people without heart attacks, using data from Statistics Sweden and the National Board of Health and Welfare.

Using this data and new statistical methods, the researchers calculated the difference in life expectancy between those who had heart attacks and those who did not. This provided a clear measure of how much life expectancy was shortened by heart attacks.

“We found significant differences between groups,” said Christian Reitan, the study’s first author and a researcher at Karolinska Institutet. “Women and younger individuals lost the most life expectancy after a heart attack. For example, a 50-year-old woman with impaired cardiac function loses an average of 11 years, while an 80-year-old man with normal cardiac function loses about 5 months.”

The researchers also considered factors such as income, education, other illnesses, and medications at the time of the heart attack. This helped isolate the impact of the heart attack itself.

“The results showed that a considerable part of the life expectancy reduction could be attributed to other factors, such as socioeconomic status and other diseases like hypertension and diabetes,” Reitan explained. “When cardiac function was preserved, the gender difference in life expectancy loss disappeared.”

This suggests that the larger reduction in life expectancy for women is due to differences in risk factors, other diseases, and socioeconomic conditions. The study indicates that women may not receive as individualized heart attack care in Sweden as men do.

“If a woman had impaired cardiac function, the gender difference was significant,” Reitan noted. “We don’t have the data to determine why, but it raises questions about whether women receive the same quality of follow-up and treatment for heart failure as men or if heart failure is inherently more severe for women.”

The findings challenge existing guidelines for heart attack treatment and highlight the need for tailored treatment approaches. “By identifying high-risk groups, we can better customize treatment to the individual,” Reitan concluded. “We believe that ‘years of life lost’ is a clear and understandable measure of risk for both doctors and patients. It helps us better assess and communicate the seriousness of the disease.”

In summary, this study underscores the importance of considering gender differences in heart attack care and the need for more personalized treatment to improve outcomes for women.

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